The thought of Barcelona skipper Lionel Messi walking away from the club may seem nonsensical to many football fans, but the Argentine ace said it very nearly happened back in 2016.
Speaking to Barcelona-based radio station RAC1 on Wednesday, Messi revealed that the stresses of fighting with the Spanish tax authorities over an investigation over tax fraud left him disenfranchised and ready to walk away from Spanish football.
Messi, who has been at Barca since he was 13 years of age, was found guilty of defrauding the Spanish government of €4.2 million euros ($4.61 million) between 2007 and 2009 over income earned from image rights.
In 2016 the Argentina international was handed a prison sentence of 21 months and ordered to pay a fine of €2 million, but never spent a day behind bars after paying a €250,000 fine. The fact he carried no previous convictions allowed him to serve his sentence under probation.
Despite avoiding jail time, the situation left Messi upset, angry and looking for a way out of Spain.
“Sincerely, at that time, I thought about leaving,” said Messi.
“Not because of Barcelona but because I wanted to leave Spain, I felt very badly treated and I didn’t want to stay here any longer.
“I had my doors open to many clubs but I never got an official offer because everyone knew I really wanted to stay. This situation went way beyond my feelings for Barca.”
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Messi was targeted by the tax authorities as part of a wider tax fraud investigation involving high-profile footballers. Messi’s La Liga colleagues Cristiano Ronaldo, Javier Mascherano and Marcelo were also investigated.
“I was the first and that’s why they came down so hard on me,” said Messi.
“They made an example of me and showed that it was going to be like this for everyone. It was tough because of everything that was happening at that time.”
And Barcelona fans can rest easy knowing that, with his tax issues now a thing of the past, Messi said he wants to stay at the club for the rest of his playing days.
“Today my idea and that of my family is to end (my career) here,” he said.
“Especially first because of how I am in the club, how I feel in the club, then because of the familiar, for how good we are in this city, for my children, for not changing my friendships and I don’t want it broken because I had to live it on my personal level.”
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